House Passes Bill Defining Regents’ Role

Both chambers of the Texas Legislature have approved a bill that would more carefully define the roles of public university governing boards.

House Passes Bill Defining Regents' Role

In response to ongoing tensions throughout the legislative session, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill Monday to more tightly define the role of university regents. The bill, which passed without debate, refines regents’ statutory power at public university systems across the state. It now heads back to the Senate, where it originated, for agreement on two amendments before it heads to Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law or veto. Perry has appointed all of the current UT System regents.

While affecting all public university governing boards, the bill was drafted in response to ongoing discord between legislators and the UT System Board of Regents. Responding to allegations that regents were attempting to remove UT-Austin president Bill Powers, legislators have spoken out against what they call “micromanagement” of UT, and “witch hunts” against President Powers. The tone has cooled in recent weeks, in response to regents’ providing documents requested by a joint legislative oversight committee.

The bill prescribes training for regents in governance best practices, which must be completed within a year of appointment and prior to voting on budgetary or personnel matters. House higher education chair Dan Branch (R-Dallas) added a late amendment allowing individual university systems to run the prescribed training. It also promotes governance, rather than management, and emphasizes the role of the chancellor, who serves as the main channel of communication between boards and their institutions. Another provision requires the chancellor to recommend the removal of a university president before one can be fired. Regents approved a change to their own rules Thursday that makes the chancellor an explicit voice in the presidential selection process.

Support for the bill was bipartisan in both chambers, but the final step in the legislative process requires approval by Gov. Perry. Two new nominees for the UT System Board were announced by Perry in February, along with the reappointment of vice chair Paul Foster, though the legislature has yet to approve the nominees. A nominations committee meeting is expected on May 20. Perry has appointed every current member of the UT System Board, and some have accused the governor of targeting the Austin flagship, attempting to instate reforms that critics see as detrimental to UT’s constitutional mandate.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of prominent Texans formed in 2011 to oppose higher education reforms they see as detrimental, responded to the passage of the bill Monday afternoon. In a statement, the Coalition applauded legislators and expressed their hope that the measure would lead to less tension in the governance of Texas colleges and universities.

“[The bill] is an important step toward improving the governance of these critical state institutions and ensuring members of the boards of regents are adequately equipped, prepared and trained to govern properly,” the Coalition wrote Monday.

A Perry spokesman told the Alcalde that the governor will review the bill and make a final decision once it gets to his desk.

Learn more about Texas Exes advocacy efforts here.

Photo courtesy bsryan via Flickr Creative Commons.


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